Writing a Novel? Make Something Happen NOW (and on every page)

Action Margine of Terror

You’re writing a novel. Is something happening on every page? Action on every page is vital.

I’m a huge fan of Victorian novelists. I love Anthony Trollope. I reread his Palliser novels every few years. If Trollope were writing today however, I’m sure he’d use a different style. He would show, more than tell. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “show, don’t tell” before when it comes to writing fiction.

“Showing” is writing in scenes: writing action, exactly as it happens, from the point of view of one character, your viewpoint character, in a scene.

“Telling” is narrative summary: you’re relating events to your readers. Think of it as if you’re telling someone what happened in a movie.

Everything important which happens in your novel should be shown as a scene, and every scene should have ACTION to carry the story forward.

Cut the Talk, Cue the Action

Sadly in many unpublished, or self-published, novels by beginning writers, nothing much happens. Or something happens, and it’s weird.

If you want to see common errors writers make in their novels — even very good writers — read the First Page entries on the Dear Author blog. Brave authors summit the first page of their novels; I think the feature runs every Saturday and Sunday.

Authors’ biggest mistake is that nothing much happens on the first page. People talk. There’s some info dumping, but nothing HAPPENS. When something does happen, it’s weird. For example, one First Page entry had a woman on her own in a snowbound cabin. A stranger comes to her door. She welcomes him, and gets fussy about some potato crisps which were past their use-by date. You might well think HUH?! Undeniably, this novel’s heroine was TSTL (Too Stupid to Live)… she’s alone, miles from anywhere, in a snowbound cabin and she drags a strange man into the cabin… This could have been set up well, if she’d been nervous.. But she was worried about potato crisps.

The author’s novel has potential, and something happened on the first page, which is good. Sadly, what happened was silly.

You can’t go far wrong with your novel if you have action, and that action is presented logically.

Here’s an Exercise: Get Familiar With Action in Scenes

Pick a novel from the genre in which you’re writing. Read the first chapter. How many scenes are there in the chapter? How does the author transition out of a scene into the scene’s sequel? The “scene sequel” is the page after the scene, in which the viewpoint character thinks about what happened, and what he/ she will do next.

Next, make a list of actions in each scene. What happens? Even talk can be action (two characters plotting the murder of a third character, for example), so you don’t need to have your characters driving racing cars, or climbing a mountain. However, something must happen, in each and every scene of your novel. Indeed, on every page.


Story Power: discover how stories can kickstart your fiction sales

Story Power

Why should YOU write short stories? Three reasons. They’re fast to write, they can teach you a lot, and they pay.

* New to fiction? Short fiction’s useful for new fiction writers. They can learn how fiction works, and make money, without investing months and years.

* Established in fiction? Short fiction is also useful for novelists: build your name, and increase overall sales, with frequent releases.

* Stories are POWERFUL. Everyone loves a story. In the marketing world, stories have always been powerful, and companies are becoming more aware of the fact.

Learn more.

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photo credit: Rakka via photopin cc

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Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.